Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Charles Ferris Lewis (1828–1900)

by Jean Gittins

This article was published:

Charles Ferris Lewis (1828-1900), mining entrepreneur and newspaper proprietor, was born on 4 April 1828 at Devizes, Wiltshire, England, son of Charles Lewis, farmer, and his wife Sarah, née Ferris. He went to London at 13 and probably joined the small-goods trade. He arrived at Sydney in July 1849 but soon joined the rush to the Californian goldfields. He reached San Francisco in February 1850 and for three years had some success near Sacramento. He returned to Sydney in 1853 and followed the rushes to Ballarat and Bendigo, spending some time at the Yam Holes near Beaufort. On 16 March 1855 he joined a prospectors' camp at New Bendigo (St Arnaud North). A good entertainer and full of energy, he won the esteem of the party's leader and was given a profitable 'golden hole'. One of the first at the Bell Rock diggings he took over the abandoned claim at Wilson's Hill, on which he and his friends made mining history when payable gold was brought up from a depth of 270 feet (82 m). When the Chrysolite Co. was formed he was a director and later as legal manager he steered it into the great dividend-paying Lord Nelson. He was also a pioneer of the Prince of Wales mine. He never sold a share for speculation but put his profits into redevelopment.

Lewis settled at New Bendigo in 1855 and devoted himself to promoting the district's welfare. He held an auctioneer's licence and opened estate and insurance agencies. When the town was surveyed in 1857 he and two others were asked to name the streets, one of which was called Lewis. He bought a site on Alma Street for £4 and built a weatherboard house, Wiltshire Cottage, which remained part of his home until 1900. In 1862 he topped the poll for borough councillors but resigned in 1867 to devote attention to the St Arnaud Mercury which he had bought. His sympathies were always with the independent and wage miner but every good cause was given the paper's support. He bound yearly volumes for presentation to the Borough Council of St Arnaud, the Shire of Kara Kara and the Mechanics' Institute.

In politics Lewis was an uncompromising Liberal and upheld his principles with no uncertain pen and voice. He was an active worker for the Church of England and helped to organize the building of Christ Church in 1866. In 1868 he married Jane, widow of Archibald Borthwick. He then carried on the Borthwick store until it was destroyed by fire in 1880. He was a director of the Country Press Association, the first representative of St Arnaud on the Maryborough Mining Board and a trustee of the local branch of the Australian Miners' Association. He held high office in the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Odd Fellows and was an active Freemason. He was appointed a justice of the peace in 1887 and gave evidence to the royal commission on gold mining in 1889-91.

Affectionately known as 'the Father of St Arnaud', Lewis died suddenly on 3 May 1900 and was buried in the local cemetery, survived by his wife, two daughters and two sons, Charles Ferris and Thomas George, who carried on the Mercury until 1929.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 3 (Melb, 1905)
  • Y. S. Palmer, Track of the Years (Melb, 1955)
  • St Arnaud Mercury, 5 May 1900
  • Leader (Melbourne), 12 May 1900.

Citation details

Jean Gittins, 'Lewis, Charles Ferris (1828–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


4 April, 1828
Devizes, Wiltshire, England


3 May, 1900 (aged 72)
St Arnaud, Victoria, Australia

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